Presenting to executives can be, simply put, a challenge.
A lot is asked of the C-suite. They’re tasked with keeping investors, customers, and employees happy. They’re required to see across their entire organization and successfully connect the dots between IT, sales, finance, marketing, product development, and more. In short, they’re juggling priorities and a tight schedule.
Your specific team or role is a blip on their radar – until it’s not. When you get an opportunity to have an executive’s undivided attention, you want to make the most of it. Knowing how they prefer to receive information is the first step in doing so.
Here are four ways you can hone your presentation to make sure your senior executives will listen and respond.
1. Prioritize Strategy
The C-suite deals with overall business strategy, not the minutiae of execution. So, when you’re presenting to executives, tailor your delivery to speak to their primary concerns.
Easier said than done, right? Sometimes it takes a bit of mental gymnastics to get into this mindset.
First, set aside the things that preoccupy your own role – your priorities, concerns, and even the vocabulary you’re comfortable with. Then, focus on the big picture and why this conversation is significant to larger business goals and objectives.
As you assess how each point of your presentation ladders up, it’s helpful to think through the questions executives will likely have about broader impacts on company strategy. For instance:
- How will this affect our revenue?
- What will this cost and what return do we expect?
- What does this mean for our customers?
- How will this help us differentiate ourselves against competitors?
- What are the risks if we do (or don’t do) this?
2. Customize Your Delivery
When presenting, keep it as succinct as possible. Only give your executives the information and guidance they need to make good decisions. This means cutting words, simplifying visuals, and avoiding jargon. Executives don’t want to hear the details.
We have a formula that we follow at INK when we want to clearly and simply share ideas, recommendations, and requests – REE, which stands for Recommendation + Explanation + Expectation.
Here is how to use REE:
- Recommendation: State what we should do.
- Explanation: Provide the why/background on what is going on.
- Expectation: Explain the value we should expect to gain.
My team and I presented recommendations to a client’s new CMO about how to measure the success of our communications program. We prepared a beautiful slide deck on our measurement philosophy complete with examples of what it looks like, our approach to measurement, and lots of data. The conversation fell flat – she saw the slides and all the information on them and didn’t even want to try to digest it. It was too much, shared at a time when she was busy ramping up on a new job.
In our next meeting, we distilled our presentation using the REE structure, had a great conversation around measurement, and quickly got her buy-in on our process:
Recommendation: A straightforward overview of the approach we wanted to take to program measurement
Explanation: Outlined three key points on the importance of communications measurement
Expectation: Demonstrated what she would be able to show her CEO when it came time to report on marketing goals and objectives
3. Consider Your Timing
When speaking to C-level executives, always think about the bigger picture at that point in time. What’s going on in their lives, at the business, or in the industry? If it’s earnings season, don’t try to pitch an executive your new idea –you won’t have their full attention.
In the CMO example above, we put a lot of words in front of a new executive at a time when she was getting information thrown at her from left and right. Understanding and anticipating what is going on in an executive’s work world goes a long way in knowing when and how to communicate with them.
4. Support Your Recommendations
Be prepared to back up any recommendation you’re making with data. Know it backward and forwards. While an executive might not need to hear or see the data, they’ll want to know that it exists, that you’ve consulted it, and are ready to answer questions about it.
Personas are a good example of this lesson. When creating personas, we usually aggregate multiple sources of data, both primary and secondary, to paint a complete picture of a customer. When presenting the final product, it’s not necessary to walk through every piece of data that you used, but rather what the resulting persona means for how we approach marketing, sales, and product development. However, since the data is the primary source of your personas’ credibility, you’ll want to keep track of how it was used so you’re able to point to the exact source if pressed.
And don’t forget that collecting, analyzing, and organizing data and proof points can take time. So, when you’re building a presentation, give yourself plenty of runway to obtain the details you need to build executive confidence in your recommendation
Bonus Advice: Remember That You are the Expert
If you’re still feeling unsure, read that heading one more time. Believe what you’re saying and have confidence that it’s the right solution. Leave them with actionable next steps, so they know you have a plan and the ability to execute it. You are the expert, and thoughtful communication will ensure the executives you are presenting to know it.